‘Capacity disaster’: Mass. General Hospital says it needs more beds to combat ‘unprecedented crisis’

BOSTON — Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston announced Friday that it has been dealing with an ongoing “capacity disaster” and that it’s in desperate need of more beds to help combat the “unprecedented crisis.”

The hospital has been operating every day for the past 16 months in “Code Help” or “Capacity Disaster” status, despite the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic being a thing of the past, a spokesperson for the medical center said.

According to the hospital, “Code Help” occurs when inpatient beds and monitored hallway stretchers are full, and “Capacity Disaster” is triggered when the emergency department is full, all hallway stretchers are being used, and there are more than 45 inpatients boarding in the emergency department awaiting a hospital bed.

The spokesperson noted that a patient “boarding” in the emergency department is a patient who is sick enough to be admitted to the hospital but must remain in the emergency department because there are no available hospital beds.

Between October 2022 and September 2023, patients boarded in the MGH emergency department for a total of 381,228 hours, a 32% increase from the previous 12-month period, according to the hospital.

A total of 103 patients were boarded in the emergency department last Thursday, marking “one of the most crowded days MGH has experienced in its two centuries of caring for Boston and its surrounding communities,” the hospital spokesperson said.

MGH President David F.M. Brown called the worsening situation a “full-blown crisis” for patients in need of care, as well as staffers who are facing “increasingly stressful situations.”

“While hospital overcrowding has significantly affected patient care for many years, COVID-19 and the post-pandemic demand for care has escalated this challenge into a full-blown crisis – for patients seeking necessary emergency care, as well as for staff who are required to work under these increasingly stressful conditions,” Brown said in a statement. “This crisis is most acutely felt in our ED, where patients wait hours for an inpatient bed. Put simply, every day between 50 and 80 patients spend the first night of their hospitalization in the ED, which is not an appropriate or therapeutic environment for anyone and contributes significantly to clinician burnout and frustration.”

In response to this crisis, MGH said that the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issued an official memo on Jan. 9 urging expedited discharge planning as soon as it is safe for patients to be released from hospital care.

Massachusetts DPH told Boston 25 the memo from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services was to mitigate pressure on the hospital’s staff.

“Due to rising cases of respiratory illness, EOHHS implemented these measures to ensure people are getting the care they need while reducing strain on the healthcare workforce. We encourage everyone to get vaccinated against respiratory viruses like RSV, COVID and flu in order to reduce the severity of illness.”

MGH is now working to increase the number of licensed inpatient beds in its emergency department, facilitate earlier discharges, and provide home hospital service when appropriate, among other efforts.

“We will always provide care to every person who crosses our threshold – a responsibility we take extremely seriously,” Brown said. “We have improved inpatient throughput and efficiency and developed innovative care models across our health system and yet we still face overwhelming and increasing ED crowding with no end in sight. That is why adding more beds to MGH will greatly help alleviate this capacity crisis, enhance access for patients and substantially improve the overall working conditions for our clinicians and staff.”

MGH has launched a new website for patients to learn more about how the hospital is handling this capacity crisis, with new information posted regularly.

MGH, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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